Somehow I managed to miss last year’s Dan Simmons novel ‘Flashback’ being published but although I got it a couple of weeks ago I parked it since I wasn’t going to finish it before getting Alastair Reynolds’s ‘Blue Remembered Earth’. But with BRE out of the way, I dove straight into ‘Flashback’.
Whereas Reynolds postulates a future of progress in BRE, ‘Flashback’ is Simmons’s one and only dystopian novel.
It’s 2036 and the world has gone to hell. The current economic crisis has turned out to be never ending and the Western World is bankrupt. What’s left of the USA is heavily dependent on Japan for pretty much everything, as well as being torn apart by conflict and terrorism. And the majority of the population in the Western World is addicted to Flashback, a drug which allows its users to relive any point in their past life, minute by minute.
Nick Bottom is a PI/former homicide detective, whose life is now heavily dependent on Flashback, which he uses to relive time with his dead wife. When he’s hired to look into the unsolved murder of the son of a Japanese Advisor from his time on the force, he takes the well paid job to feed his habit. But quickly he discovers that his wife somehow seems to have been involved in the case.
At the same time, Bottom’s estranged son is involved in the attempted murder of another Japanese Advisor. And living in a Los Angeles that is about to be engulfed in war.
The plot thereafter deals with Bottom’s attempts to solve the mystery and also find his son. Who might just be prepared to kill him.
As a mystery/thriller ‘Flashback’ works really well, with Bottom gradually putting together the pieces of the puzzle. On that level it’s a gripping read and another example of Simmons flitting effortlessly between genres at will.
And as seems to be the case with many of his novels there’s a part of the plot which depends on altered realities, not least the (hopefully) ambiguous ending.
Yet, the novel has been controversial because of the chain of events that the author uses to create his world of 2036. Simmons takes his concerns over the growing debt of the Western nations and extrapolates a future which must be like a wet dream for the Tea Party, with healthcare reforms held up as one of the principal reasons for the US’s decline.
Not surprisingly, the novel has been cast as right wing propaganda in many quarters, even though Simmons has denied on his website that the book reflects his political views.
So that’s alright then? It’s simply a fictional world which asks a few ‘What if?’ questions to create a setting for his story? After all there are plenty of examples in fiction of writers creating conflict in stories based on political views which may not reflect the writers’ own views.
Maybe. Yet some doubts remain.
There’s a political conversation in a lorry which serves no purpose in the main storyline – in fact it seems like the equivalent of the occasional rant that Iain Banks places in his novels. Banks, unlike Simmons, is not shy of expressing his political viewpoints, so you know when his characters make these comments the author is being honest . But if that chapter DOESN’T reflect Simmons’s views why is it there at all?
Ultimately the (non)politicising didn’t really get in the way of me enjoying the book as, regardless of its origins, Simmons’s world provides a suitable background to the story. So I’m prepared to give Simmons the benefit of the doubt but there are plenty of people out there, including long time fans, who disagree.
But if you are in any way centre/left leaning, you may wish to approach this with a degree of caution.